Michael and Rose took a trip out to the beautiful countryside to show us how to harvest prairie sage. The day was hot, but luckily the prairie breezes kept us cool (although these gentle winds did occasionally strengthen and become a little noisy during our shoot).
"We want everyone to know that processing sage is just as important to us as selling it - we want everything done in the right way, we want everything done properly so that when people use this sage for their most sacred, interpersonal uses, they know it started out in a good way." - Rose Kern
Type of sage to look for:
We use the Man Sage with the wide leaves (this is an artemisia species - Artemisia ludoviciana - and its one of about 200 species in this country). This is the kind of sage that people around here use and expect to both receive and purchase when they come into the store.
The Woman Sage is a lot smaller, shorter, way more frondy, and a little bit softer. There is also a sub species of Man Sage, but the leaves are thinner. It has a sharper smell and the whole plant looks thinner and sharper.
You can tell if its Man Sage by looking at the leaves. The leaves of this plant will be much wider and stay on the stem as they dry. The sub species, on the other hand, will loose their leaves during the drying process…the leaves are still usable. This also tends to have a more acrid aroma, where as the Man Sage is a little more sweet smelling.
Some Indian people call Man Sage "Hill Sage" because they say it tends to grow where its a little hillier.
Make an offering:
Its a plant that you should thank when you're gathering it. The best thing to do is take a little tobacco and just offer it up because you're asking for the use of this plant in a good way. Its a good thing to do whenever you gather anything.
When to harvest:
We like to get it before its seeded out (normally it won't seed out until way into July).
How to harvest:
Please NEVER pull the sage up by the root and don't harvest the whole patch…just take some, maybe what you think is the most mature (these will more than likely be the tallest stems). Get down low on the stem and just cut it off using some heavy scissors or pruning shears.
What we're doing is we're wild crafting, and we're just trying to do it sustainably. We want the plant to come back year after year, as it has done for thousands of years. This is a plant from this country (it wasn't brought here or imported here) and has been used by the People for thousands and thousands of years.
Gathering it up:
It's best to lay it all in the same direction (all the stems and all the tops together). This is absolutely important for not only the gathering, but also the drying process…its much easier if it's all laying the same way.
Make sure your bundle is clean! You should also remove any grass or other plants out of your bundle.
How to dry your sage:
Depending on the weather, the drying period for sage will be about one week.
You also have to find a dry place to lay it out. For instance, if you lay it on the ground, it'll soak up moisture…so you really want to look for an area that's cool and dry.
The best way to dry it is to gather it together in a bundle, tie it together, and hang it in your garage or another place so it will dry evenly. If you can only place it outside, just remember to bring it inside or cover it at night so it doesn't get any dew on it.
You want to aim for a "crackily" dry bundle of sage (it should crackle when gently squeezed).
Please DO NOT dry your sage using artificial heat, like in an oven or microwave - this gives it a toasty odor and deteriorates the plant because it takes too much of the essential oil out of it.
- Wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants so you don't get scratched up by the long grasses and stems.
- Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect you from the sun.
- Watch out for snakes and spiders!
- If you're going to collect on private property or a state park, ask for permission first. In some districts, you may just need to purchase a cutting or wild crafting permit (usually a small fee).